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Early Career: mix of ambition, fortune (good and bad) and travel lust by Jodi Young

Jodi Young

Assistant Professor at the University of Washington

twitter: @uw_young

instagram: @youngalgae

I am an Assistant Professor in Oceanography, at the University of Washington. My research interest is on marine photosynthesis with a focus on polar oceans. I wish to understand how a changing climate may influence marine ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles. I conduct field research in both Antarctica and the Arctic and combine this with laboratory manipulations of isolated sea-ice algae. Prior to this, I did a postdoc at Princeton University and received my PhD from Oxford University (UK). Before that I worked as a technician in agricultural and medical research and received my BSc from Murdoch University (AUS).

After completing your degree, how did you make the decision to pursue this career path?

My career trajectory has not always been linear and I have bounced around a little before I landed my current job. My path has been a mix of ambition, fortune (good and bad) and travel lust. At each step in my education (Bachelors, Masters, PhD) I said I wasn’t going to study any further – I wanted to get a “real” job but somehow always found myself returning to studying. I eventually realized that I liked research and desired the freedom to focus on my interests. That’s why I decided to pursue a PhD. While I made conscious choices regarding what I would study, the locations were driven by personal matters. For my PhD, I wanted to be in the UK, near my boyfriend. For my postdoc, I wasn’t ready to move back home to Australia and I had the chance to go to Antarctica (and it helped they were both great institutions!). By the time I returned from Antarctica I was hooked on the idea of being an academic. During my postdoc I met my future husband (doing his PhD) and when it came time for our next step, we both started applying for positions all over the world. We decided that whoever got the best/first job the other would follow, but that we would reassess our happiness after a couple of years. I feel extremely fortunate to have received an offer here at UW and we were able to negotiate a non-tenure track position for him. We’ve now been in Seattle for 3.5 years, we’re married, just bought a house and have a 1.5 year-old child. It’s been crazy!

Work life balance:

I wish I had a good answer for this one. One of the great advantages of academia is that your schedule is largely up to you, and you have lots of flexibility. The downside is that we are generally very driven and self-motivated and thus are not good at managing our work hours. Based on my experience working in different countries I have noticed a tendency in the USA for people to place more emphasis on hours worked rather than productivity. I’ll admit there are times when I need to work some crazy hours (submitting a proposal/paper or running samples, for example), but I try to balance that with time off at a later opportunity. I think my years working as a technician with fixed hours has helped me keep a more reasonable work schedule. Now I have a kid, my time at work is more rigid and this has been a good thing, I work less but more productively. Before having children, travel was very important to me (it still is but just harder to do). I took 6 months off to travel the world between finishing my postdoc and starting my professorship – it was amazing and meant that I was refreshed and excited to start my new job. Now, I am excited to come home and play with my son – we’re taking him camping for the first time in a couple of weekends!

My advice to early career researchers:

● Network and give seminars. When looking for a job, go on the “talk circuit”. Ask colleagues to invite you to give seminars, it was immensely helpful for me to get my current job. Once I had given a couple of talks it kind of snowballed, as people recommended my name to other seminar organizers.

● Don’t stress. HA! I still stress all the time about everything. I wish I didn’t, it has never helped.

● It’s ok to admit what you don’t know, but at the same time be confident in your abilities. The amazing transferable skill of a PhD is that you have been trained to be thrown into a field that you know nothing about and, while being surrounded by those who know more than you, make your mark and achieve something unique and new. Come on, that’s amazing!

● Everything takes way longer than you expect.

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